Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Lorna’s Silence, 2008, color film in 35 mm, 105 minutes. Publicity stills. Left and right: Claudy and Lorna (Jérémie Renier and Arta Doborishi). Photos: Christine Plenus/Sony Pictures Classics.
NO OTHER FILMMAKERS put pressure on the underprivileged young of mainland Europe as consistently as Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Among their works, La Promesse (1996), Rosetta (1999), and L’Enfant (2005) variously trace the steps of a compromised teen or twenty-something negotiating survival in the context of revved-up capitalism, a world in which nearly everyone is grubbing for money. The mood is generally bleak, but thanks to the Dardennes’ blending of Loachian realism with Bressonian asceticism, hope and grace are often attained.
On paper, Lorna’s Silence (2008), their latest film, isn’t a departure from this formula, yet it is deceptively different. In telling the story of Lorna (Kosovan actress Arta Dobroshi), an Albanian immigrant in Liège who dreams of owning a snack bar, the Dardennes filter it through film noir. Although the movie turns into a thriller only in the last thirty minutes, and then only barely, the noirish ambience (if not style) underscores the heinousness of those who traffic in human lives for their own ends—a central tenet of the Dardennes’ work.
Lorna’s situation is revealed piecemeal, allowing the horror of her situation to percolate through the film. To become a Belgian citizen, she has married a heroin addict, Claudy (Jérémie Renier, from La Promesse and L’Enfant), the union arranged by the low-level mobster Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), who plans to have Claudy OD so he can wed Lorna to a Russian mafioso. Lorna pushes through the film with a hard, tense face, saving her few smiles for her undeserving boyfriend, but her veneer cannot, in the end, withstand Claudy’s neediness. Her change comes too late to save him, but given the opportunity to preserve his memory she refuses to buckle, and the predators are thwarted.
Having resorted to genre, the Dardennes give Lorna’s Silence an unexpected, distinctly un-noirish twist. Whereas they usually strand their protagonists in punishing urban blight (that of their Belgian hometown Seraing), they finally send Lorna off into the woods; her attempts to light a fire in a hut are shown with as much loving detail as the carpenter’s joinery in the Dardennes’ The Son (2002). The sequence comes as a shock. It doesn’t promise that Lorna will be all right, but it certainly lifts the pressure from her shoulders.